BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Gravity

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Gravity
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a supreme technical achievement and a standard, if mostly engaging, story.  When I saw it for the first time, in IMAX and in 3D, I was astounded at the craftsmanship of some scenes but had an underlying “meh” about everything else.  After returning to the movie in theaters again, this time in a standard theater with the standard two dimensions, the flaws only became larger.

As Richard Brody aptly put it in The New Yorker:

Cuarón has done a formidable job of piecing together a plausibly coherent material world of space, of conveying the appearance of that setting and the sensations of the characters who inhabit it. But he has created those sensations generically, with no difference between the subjectivity of his characters and the ostensible appearance to a camera of those phenomena. He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view.

The movie works as well as it does because of the audience’s built-in history with Sandra Bullock, who plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a woman who is having a really bad day trying to get back to Earth after a space station accident.  Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Amour

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Amour 
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke (screenplay)
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert and William Shimmell

Michael Haneke’s latest film is a good poster child for why mainstream movie audiences fear and avoid many foreign films; it is quiet, slow and relentlessly depressing.  After winning the Palme d’Or in 2009 for The White Ribbon, Haneke officially established himself as a “Cannes auteur,” a director whose latest work would forever and always have a place in the festival’s cannon.

Amour is wondrously, deliberately hopeless.  Its depiction of an elderly woman’s slow, painful crawl toward death after suffering a series of strokes is not peppered with melodrama or any sort of dramatic flourish.  Haneke seems to think this would make the situation too comfortable, too much like a movie.  The goal of this film is to show the situation in as realistic light as possible, but from a removed distance.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly and Lowell Landes

Since Beasts of the Southern Wild was my pick for the best movie of 2012, I thought I would revisit it here since my original review was an ecstatic, somewhat over-the-top reaction from the Cannes Film Festival.  Having seen the film twice now, I still maintain that it is a masterpiece, and one of the best translations of childhood consciousness that I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Many of the criticisms of Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature revolve around its treatment of race as it relates to poverty.  The harshest (and most recent) of these comes from Richard Brody of The New Yorker, who wrote:

The movie itself is this year’s The Help, a romanticized and mythologized vision of poor Southern blacks (in this case, a father and daughter in a Louisiana bayou community called the Bathtub) that also sentimentalizes the very notion of self-help (“The Self-Help”) in a story that spotlights a tough, poetic, independent-spirited child facing dangers in aquatic adventures.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Help

The Help
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Tate Taylor (screenplay), Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Bryce Dallas Howard

More than anything- its Civil Rights message, its 60s send-back, its self-awareness of both- Tate Taylor’s film adaptation of The Help is more proof that female-driven movies outside the rom-com purgatory are infiltrating the mainstream.   That is the edgiest thing about it by far. As many critics have already remarked, it is a fairly safe movie.  It tackles racism in Jackson, Mississippi in the time period surrounding the assassination of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy.

Like AMC’s Mad Men, it dresses its stars (or the white ones at least) in irresistibly colorful dresses and tortures their hair into ridiculously smoothed-out contortions.  Unlike that show, it is aware of when it takes place.  This script, written by the director Tate Taylor, anticipates everything it’s going to throw at you.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Black Swan

Black Swan
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heintz, & John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Barbara Hershey

Perfection: chased to the elegant stage by way of the not-so-elegant back rooms.  That is the goal viewers watch Nina (Natalie Portman) hurt, bleed, and dance, dance, dance toward  in Darren Aronofsky’s hallucinatory Black Swan.

Aronofsky, fast becoming one of American cinema’s brightest renegades and fiercest visionaries, has never been shy about making you feel his characters’ pain.  By removing all distance between you and them by rapid cutting and frantic pacing, you feel a kinetic connection to their turmoil.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

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